Trump edged out Cruz in the Louisiana primary that was held March 5, though the margin was close enough that each candidate ended up taking 18 delegates.
But earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that the five state party leaders who will attend the Republican convention, and the five delegates who were formerly pledged to Marco Rubio, were planning to throw their support to Cruz.
That would give Cruz a resounding delegates victory in the state despite losing to Trump by 4 points.
Trump promptly declared that he’d sue the state party and seek to have the delegates disqualified over what he described as a rigged process designed to block him from the nomination.
Four of the former Rubio delegates have since signed an open letter saying they are undecided and plan to stay uncommitted until the convention. Party officials in the state insist that at least a few of them are undecided as well.
“I’m reading all over social media and the press that we’re going one way as a group, but that’s just not accurate,” said Luke Letlow, a Rubio delegate who is chief of staff for Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.). “It’s left us to get the message out that we haven’t chosen a side and that we remain uncommitted.”
Letlow said he’s been courted by both the Trump and Cruz campaigns since Rubio dropped out.
He and three other delegates who were formerly bound to Rubio on the first ballot for the nomination have signed a letter saying they will remain uncommitted until the convention.
“Any reporting of our intention to support one candidate over another before that time is simply not accurate,” the letter states.
One of those signors, Leslie Tassin Sr., says he’s truly conflicted over what to do.
“Sometimes I wake up at four in the morning thinking about it and I just can’t go back to sleep,” he said. “Half my friends say Trump, the other half say Cruz, so they’re not helping me out. Some mornings I wake up leaning one way, others I wake up leaning another.”
The notion that Louisiana’s unbound delegates would go to Cruz over Trump played into the narrative that the Texas senator has a superior ground operation and delegates strategy.
While some say Cruz’s delegate sweep in Colorado last weekend shows he’s winning at the “inside game,” Tassin says he’s only been contacted by the Trump campaign so far.
In that meeting, Tassin said the Trump officials assured him they would not sue the party or seek to disenfranchise the unbound delegates, as the real estate mogul and campaign have threatened to do.
Another delegate, Kirk Williamson, said the Trump campaign has visited him in person, whereas the Cruz campaign has not returned his phone call.
“It flies in the face of the conventional wisdom about who is doing a better job of reaching out to the unpledged delegates,” he said.
Williamson spearheaded the open letter and sent it to more than 100 media organizations. He said the letter was widely ignored, even by media outlets that had run stories asserting the unpledged delegates were backing Cruz. Only the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a follow-up story, he said.
“It’s maddening,” he said.
The fifth former Rubio delegate — the one who did not sign the letter — did not return a request for comment from The Hill, but is believed to be more favorable to Cruz.
The five unbound officials in the Louisiana Republican Party are a different story.
At least one of them, Ross Little, Jr., a Republican National Committeeman, is a Cruz supporter. He has also been elected to the powerful Rules Committee, which will have a big say in how a potential contested convention unfolds.
Little told The Hill that he’s been lobbying his colleagues to move behind Cruz.
He declined to say how many are with him, but said some of them have resisted his efforts.
Louisiana Republican Party executive director Jason Dore told The Hill he hasn’t been courted by either campaign and that he will remain uncommitted — and likely undecided — until the convention.
Still, Dore added: “Threatening to sue me isn’t the best way to get my support.”
Dore said that one of his colleagues was leaning toward Trump, but that the flap over the lawsuit might have changed his mind.
“I’ve done nothing but media interviews ever since Trump threatened to sue us,” he said. “I see these reports that say it’s a matter of fact that Cruz has all 10 unbound delegates and wonder if it’s even worth it to reach out to the reporters to correct them anymore.”
Part of the problem, Dore said, is that neither campaign has an incentive to clear up the misunderstanding.
The Trump campaign benefits from being able to run against an establishment it says has stacked the deck against it, while the Cruz campaign is relishing reports about its superior organization.
The delegates interviewed by The Hill said it’s still possible that Cruz could run a clean sweep of Louisiana’s unbound delegates.
Some believe the state party leaders harbor inherent suspicions of Trump that will lead them to Cruz.
And if Rubio tells his delegates he’d like to see them back Cruz, some or all of them may go that route.
Still, it’s possible that the unbound delegates will consider the popular vote in their state and throw their support to Trump.
Should Trump arrive at the convention only a few delegates shy of a majority, some of the unbound delegates could feel obligated to push him across the finish line.
“These committed delegates don’t know how easy they have it,” Tassin said. “I’m really struggling with this.”